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[Robert Reich] Why 2012 will be Obama-Clinton vs. Romney-Rubio

My political prediction for 2012: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton versus Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.

Joe Biden has been a good and energetic vice president, but Obama will need to stir the passions of the Democratic base and Biden won’t suffice. (Biden will swap places with Clinton, becoming secretary of state ― a position he’s apparently coveted for years.)

A highly disciplined and unified Republican opposition has taken a toll. While the president delivered health care, it’s not as bold as many had hoped for. Although he put tighter reins on Wall Street, the biggest banks are still too big to fail. While he saved us from another Great Depression, we’re still in a jobs recession.

Hillary Clinton on the ticket would generate the enthusiasm Obama needs. She’d be the first woman vice president. She’d remind voters of the successes of the Clinton administration. And as many recall from 2008, she’s a sharp and articulate campaigner.

Moreover, Clinton would help deflect attention from the bad economy to foreign policy, where she and Obama have shined. Chances are the economy won’t be in great shape in the months leading up to Election Day. If the European debt crisis worsens and if China’s economy continues to slow, there’s a better than even chance that unemployment will be back to 9 percent.

On the other hand, the administration has had a string of foreign policy successes ― taking out Osama bin Laden, helping topple Muammar Gadhafi, skillfully managing “Arab Spring,” exiting Iraq and building pressure on Iran.

An Obama-Clinton ticket would also make Clinton the obvious Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, and her chances in 2016 would be better than Biden’s. This would give the Democrats a shot at 12 (or more) years in the White House ― something the Republicans had with Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, but which the Democrats haven’t had since FDR and Truman.

Twelve years gives the party in power a chance to reshape the Supreme Court as well as put an indelible stamp on America.

According to the latest Gallup poll, the duo are this year’s most admired man and woman. This marks the fourth consecutive win for Obama, while Clinton has been the most admired woman in each of the last 10 years.

As for Republicans, you can forget the caucuses and early primaries. Mitt Romney will be the nominee. Republicans may be stupid, but the GOP isn’t about to commit suicide. The other candidates are all weighed down by enough baggage to keep a 747 on the tarmac indefinitely.

For his running mate, Romney will choose Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida.

Romney will need a right-winger to calm and woo the Republican right. Tea Partiers like Rubio ― an evangelical Christian committed to reducing taxes and shrinking government.

Rubio is also a proven campaigner, handily winning four Florida House of Representatives elections starting in 2000, and then beating popular incumbent Republican governor Charlie Crist in a 2010 U.S. Senate race when Crist ran as an independent.

Moreover, he’s only 40, thereby giving the ticket some youthful vigor. And he’s Hispanic ― a Cuban-American ― at a time when the GOP needs to court the Hispanic vote.

Rubio’s only baggage is the “son of exiles” controversy ― he has suggested his parents were refugees forced out of Cuba by Castro when in fact they moved to the United States before the Cuban revolution. But this isn’t the sort of slip that would keep him off the ticket. Romney has defended Rubio, saying, “I think the world of Marco Rubio, support him entirely and think that the effort to try to smear him was unfortunate and bogus.”

Finally, and most critically, Florida is a crucial swing state.

And what’s my prediction for Election Day? Obama-Clinton hands down.

By Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He blogs at ― Ed.

(Tribune Media Services)